Sarah Boyd


The 9 most powerful questions to get perspective in a difficult situation

Is One Person Making Your Life Hell? (Are They Unstable, Emotional and Explosive?)

Is there someone you have to tiptoe around to avoid explosive and emotional outbursts? one minute they’re fine, the next they’re not, and you can never really put your finger on what the trigger was? You might be dealing with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

(Image credit @jshnaa)

(Image credit @jshnaa)

This article is Part 2 of a 4 Part series on specific personality disorders you are most likely to find in business and leadership. See my other posts at the end of this article.

From my university psychology study and personal leadership experience I’ve noticed that personality disorders go largely undetected in business and leadership and can cause great and long term damage to relationships and the organisation.

Disclaimer: The only way an individual can be officially diagnosed with a personality disorder is by a trained mental health professional using the DSM criteria. This information is to provide everyday knowledge to equip leaders to be able to identify when you may need professional help.



This individual is emotionally and relationally unstable. There are two types of this disorder – high and low functioning. In most leadership situations you will primarily come across the high-functioning (or invisible) borderlines, who behave perfectly normal most of the time, and only show their true selves to close family, friends or immediate team members.

The Borderline:

1 Has A High Level Of Instability In Relationships

Intense or no close relationships. They manipulate others to come close in relationships, but when they do they criticise, denigrate or deny their point of view. This pattern cycles.

2 Has A High Level Of Instability In Emotions And Self Image

Is often impulsive & experiences chronic feelings of emptiness. They can have paranoid thought patterns. 

3 Has Inappropriate Intense Anger Or Difficulty Controlling Anger

They will cope with pain by acting out and projecting it on others by blaming, criticising or making accusations.

4 Shows Frantic Effort To Avoid Imagined Or Real Abandonment

At threat of someone leaving physically or having emotional distance, they will show declarations of love, promises to change, threats, manipulations, or even physical outbursts. They then make excuses for their behaviour.

5 Swings Between Extremes Of Idealisations And Devaluation

They decide someone is all good until they do something wrong, then everything they do is bad. They are unable to see grey in people and relationships.

6 Has Undefined Boundaries

They have difficulty setting and maintaining personal limits.

7 Shows Situational Competence

They can often perform well at work and are high achievers or even leaders.

8 Show Narcissistic Behaviour

By always bringing the attention back to themselves. They react to events solely on how it impacts them.

9 Is Often Mistaken For Bipolar Disorder



You will feel: 

1 Like every day is walking through a minefield of possible blowups for unknown reasons
2 Manipulated, controlled or lied too
3 That you are going crazy – witnessing emotional outbursts alternating with perfectly normal professional behaviour
4 That you are concealing your opinions on topics because their reaction is not worth it
5 That things that you say or do will be twisted and used against you
6 That you are never doing anything right because their expectations are constantly changing
7 That you are accused of doing things you never did or saying things you never said. You constantly feel misunderstood



If you are potentially hiring this person: look more closely at references of people who worked directly with the individual – what do they have to say about the person? Ask team scenario questions to see if the individual can see grey in human behaviour.

If this person is in a team you are leading: Set strong boundaries around explosive behaviour and the treatment of other people. As the leader of the group, the individual with BPD might hide their true behaviour from you and only display it to other team members.

If this person is your leader: again, keep a close check on your own mental health – have you begun to feel depressed, anxious and less confident within yourself?

From the beginning maintain consistent friendly, but distant emotional boundaries, with the individual. This will be hard work and may potentially mean that you feel on the ‘outer’ of the group. But that is healthier long term than being in the ‘inner circle’ of roller coaster of up’s and downs.

Consider your options – can you report their behaviour to an oversight or HR? Can you move teams? If you’ve tried all the options and nothing has worked, consider planning an exit strategy.

Your own mental health, self confidence and self esteem are more important than any job.


For other articles on Personality Disorders:

1. Narcissistic Personality Disorder:  “Know someone obsessed with themselves?”

2. Histrionic Personality Disorder: “Know a drama queen?”

3. Dependent Personality Disorder: “Know someone indecisive, clingy and dependent?”

Or an Introduction:  “How to know you’re dealing with a dangerous work colleague”


For a FREE checklist of “The Big 4 Personality Disorders in Business & Leadership” enter your email below.

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